Mr. Speaker, we will talk about Bill S-7, but we will do so under the 91st gag order.
Considering what I heard earlier, before the vote, I hope that some people are watching us debate once again under a gag order.
I am pleased to rise today to share my opinion on Bill S-7. However, as in many cases in the past, I think the Conservatives are proposing an inadequate solution to a problem they see. This results in the politicization of a serious problem, and that is deplorable, to say the least.
Just look at the short title: Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. They must really like sensationalizing things to include those kinds of expressions in our legislation. I think such a title promotes xenophobia in Canada and does not allow for a fair assessment of the problem.
Of course, I strongly oppose polygamy, forced and early marriages, and gender-based violence. I am a feminist and I have been fighting for women's rights for nearly 40 years, so of course I am not okay with forcing girls to marry.
In my family, some of my mother's sisters had to get married at 16 because families were large and these girls had to leave home. They had to leave because of the attitudes of the era. However, that does not mean that these women wanted to get married at 16 or 17 and be forced to have a dozen children.
This started to change with my generation, because women worked to forge a better society for themselves and for men as well.
That said, this is all about how we solve these problems. The experts who appeared before the Senate committee said that criminalization alone would not solve this problem and, on the contrary, it could make it worse. Why criminalize people who ultimately are victims of a certain mindset?
Instead of trying to score political points by fostering xenophobia, which does not involve much thought, the government could strengthen existing legislation. It should also undertake to implement a national action plan to combat violence against women and invest more in organizations that provide assistance to women who are victims of sexual violence.
At present, many aboriginal women are raped or murdered and disappear. However, nothing is being done about that.
The government is, quite simply, not on the right track to help women, who are the real victims of sexual violence. No woman should be subjected to gender-based violence, forced marriage or underage marriage.
Unfortunately, this bill may also have serious unintended consequences, including the criminalization of victims of polygamy, the criminalization and deportation of children, and the separation of families. Why criminalize the victims of polygamy? I do not understand. Perhaps we will get some answers to that today.
This is simply not the right approach, since we are missing an opportunity to do what we should be doing: protecting victims.
The Conservatives do not care about the plight of victims of gender-based violence because they would rather exploit these victims to promote their agenda focused on intolerance and sensationalism. They are prepared to sacrifice the future of women who are the victims of gender-based violence, all to score a few points, and in doing so they are affecting all of Canada by fuelling xenophobia.
Xenophobia leads to knee-jerk reactions, and when people fall prey to that mindset, they no longer think. That is why the Conservatives love to fuel xenophobia, since it allows them to score a few easy points.
I want to appeal to the intelligence of the Canadians watching us today. Instead of promoting a sensationalist bill that will not fix anything, should the minister not undertake some serious consultations? I am obviously talking about some real, serious consultations.
In my opinion, the government should hold extensive consultations in co-operation with community groups and experts in order to find an effective solution to the problem of gender-based violence. These groups could give us a lot of assistance in drafting a bill that protects women from violence.
If the government were acting in a thoughtful manner, it would also invest more in the organizations that provide support services, such as safe and affordable housing and assistance for families. Perhaps if we were to try to eradicate poverty and help families, there might be less violence and attitudes would change with time.
Just for a minute, let us put ourselves in the shoes of victims of gender-based violence. Imagine a young immigrant woman who just barely speaks Canada's official languages. If she speaks just one of the two languages, it can be hard for her to understand all of our bills and laws. She must defend herself in a complicated justice system and cope with immigration rules that are hard to understand. She needs some help. Instead, the government will tell her that what she is doing is barbaric and that she is the problem. For hundreds of years we have been hearing that women are to blame for violence against women.
This young immigrant woman will have to fight even harder against a government that could tear apart her family, deport her or separate her from her children. That is not the right solution. Gender-based violence is a very serious issue, and we cannot exploit these victims' misery for the sake of meaningless sensationalism.
The victims of gender-based violence—primarily women and children—need support, assistance and attention. They do not need to be turned into criminals overnight. These victims did not choose their situation, so we must help them through it instead of pushing them even further into despair.
There are a number of aspects of the current bill that could have devastating consequences. For example, the bill does not contain any provisions to allow women who are conditional permanent residents to remain in Canada if their polygamist partner is deported. That is a very clear sign that the government is going after victims. Furthermore, the bill does not allow for the reunification of families in instances where a polygamist man immigrates with one of his wives and all of his children, effectively separating mothers and children. UNICEF has also expressed concerns that the bill would impose criminal sanctions against minors who celebrate a forced marriage. Starting a life with a forced marriage is hard enough, but adding a criminal record on top of that is even worse.
Another pernicious effect of the bill is that it could impede the work of groups fighting forced marriages and gender-based violence. Criminalization does have that “tough on crime” angle that the Conservatives like, but there is a major downside to it too. Criminalization will prevent many victims—women and children—from coming forward for fear of being deported or having a criminal record. As a result, it will be hard to do anything for these families, and the problem could end up getting worse.
Another problem with this bill is that it does not take into account the fact that immigrant women often have significantly less information about the rules than their sponsoring partners, which exposes them to threats and manipulation.
We want victims of forced and underage marriage to be exempt from the requirements of conditional permanent residence. We also want to enable the wives and children of an individual who is deported for having misled authorities about his marital status to remain in Canada where they have settled. We need to eliminate the amendments to the Criminal Code and allow children who are left behind in their home country by a father who dissolves a polygamous marriage to be eligible for immigration. Finally, we need to provide prevention and support services for victims of gender-based violence.
For all of these reasons, and in light of the shortcomings of Bill S-7, I have no choice but to oppose the bill.